Alexis Adler, who lived with Basquiat in 1979 and 1980, told The Daily Beast that he had seen the ad “a couple of days ago and I was horrified”.
“The commercialisation and commodification of Jean and his art at this point — it’s really not what Jean was about,” she said.
Adler explained that Basquiat would’ve wanted his paintings readily available for the public to see at museums if he were alive today.
“Unfortunately, the museums came to Jean’s art late, so most of his art is in private hands and people don’t get to see that art except for the shows. Why show it as a prop to an ad?” she said. “Loan it out to a museum. In a time where there were very few Black artists represented in Western museums, that was his goal: to get to a museum.”
Another close colleague named Al Diaz, who worked with the American artist as a teenager, criticised people’s interpretation of the painting.
“People think that his association with luxury was because he was impressed with that s***, but he couldn’t care less,” he said. “It’s not just about wearing an Armani suit. If he wore it, it’s because he could buy it and f*** it up, it wasn’t because the stitches were fabulous or well-made.”
Ex-assistant Stephen Torton added that Tiffany would not have let Basquiat in their stores when he was alive.
“They wouldn’t have let Jean-Michel into a Tiffany’s if he wanted to use the bathroom, or if he went to buy an engagement ring and pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket. We couldn’t even get a cab,” he said.
The commercial project, named “About Love”, launched globally on 2 September, with Beyoncé and Jay-Z chosen to represent the “epitome of a modern love story”, according to the brand.
At the centre of the campaign is the jeweller’s signature Tiffany Diamond, worn by Beyoncé. Discovered in 1878 in South Africa, it is one of the largest yellow diamonds in the world and weighs in at 128.54 carats.
The campaign also features a short film shot by Jay-Z that sees Beyonce cover “Moon River”, a classic song from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
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